Nebraska execution: Carey Dean Moore becomes first inmate on death row killed using fentanyl

Pharmaceutical companies have been pushing back against state plans to use their products in executions, saying the use could damage their brands

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 15 August 2018 02:24 BST
Nebraska execution Carey Dean Moore becomes first inmate on death row killed using fentanyl

Nebraska has become the first US state to use the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl in a lethal injection after a federal three-judge panel denied a drug company’s request to stop the execution over concerns the state had acquired the drug illegally.

The execution of Carey Dean Moore marks the first execution in the state since 1997, and the use of the prescription drug in the process comes as pharmaceutical companies across the country look to take legal action against states attempting to use their products in executions.

Moore had been serving prison time since 1980, when he was convicted of two first degree murders and given the death penalty. He did not file a legal challenge to the method used for the execution.

In court filings challenging the use of its drugs, German pharmaceutical company Fresenius Kabi said that it does not take a position on capital punishment but that it believes the use of its product in executions could damage its “reputation, goodwill and business relationships”.

Fentanyl has been front and centre for its role in America’s ongoing opioid crisis, which has led to a massive increase in overdose deaths in the past five years. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin, and has been brought illegally onto US streets as Americans battle with opioid addictions at increased rates due at least in part to the high level of opioid prescriptions. Fatal overdoses killed more than 150 people in Nebraska last year, for instance, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

NPR reports that the state has not disclosed its fentanyl supplier publicly and that the German company has said it has “grounds to believe” its drugs are being used in the process.

The company further argued that it only allows its products to be sold by authorised dealers, and that each dealer they work with has “contractually agreed to particular constraints, such as excluding sale to federal or state incarceration facilities”.

Drugs used for lethal injection are becoming scarce because the pharmaceutical companies that produce them are trying to distance themselves from the practice as support for capital punishment drops throughout the US.

In court filings, the state of Nebraska said that the drugs “were obtained from a licensed pharmacy in the United States and were not obtained by any fraud, deceit or misrepresentation”.

The state was able to obtain the drugs, it said, after a long search in which at least 30 potential suppliers and six other states were contacted to help.

The unnamed supplier, it added, was the only supplier that would sell the drugs to them. The supplier is also unwilling to sell more, the state said, and an upcoming 31 August expiration date meant that any further delays could keep the state from the execution indefinitely.

The Associated Press reports that Nebraska politicians actually voted to abolish the death penalty in 2015, but governor Pete Ricketts then “helped finance a ballot drive initiative to reinstate capital punishment after lawmakers overrode his veto”.

That included a donation of $300,000 (£236,000) of his own money to finance the petition drive, which put the issue on the 2016 general election ballot.

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